From the Fatherland, With Love – Ryū Murakami

December 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

First published in the Japanese in 2005
Translated into the English by Ralph McCarthy, Ginny Tapley Takemori and Charles De Wolf in 2013

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I’ve stayed well away from Ryū Murakami for a long while now. Though I can’t really remember the story or plot of the first of his books I read, Almost Transparent Blue, which incidentally was also his first novel, I vividly remember how disturbed I felt. I even remember saying that I wouldn’t read another book by this “other Murakami”. Simply way too far outside my comfort zone.

That was in 2009.

I’ve since found myself wondering if I would find it quite different today. After all, 7 years is a long time. So much has changed since then.

Maybe that’s why I dared to venture a second chance with him this time round. It was a really short visit to the library, and I was really only looking around for graphic novels. I took a sneak peek at the “M” shelves to see if there was any Mishima lying around, and ended up bringing From the Fatherland, With Love home instead.

It was daunting right from the start. There is a list of “Prominent Characters” featured in the book that runs almost 6 pages long. I took a look at that and immediately thought, boy, I’m in trouble. I don’t read many family sagas because I almost always can’t remember who is who; and the extensive list just cemented my belief that I was in for an uphill battle with this book.

Two prologues in, and I was hooked. Granted, I did have to constantly turn back to that list of characters to see who was who, but further along into the book, that no longer felt like a chore. In fact, that list was as much a part of the book as any other.

The story is set in a 2011 Japan that we don’t know. It’s a bleak time, everything that can go wrong for the island nation has gone wrong, and to make matters even worse, a group of North Korean army “rebels” have taken over Fukuoka. We are given glimpses and perspectives from every angle possible: the Japanese national government, the Fukuoka local government, the invading North Korean rebels, a homeless man, a bartender, the local media, the doctors in the hospital opposite the North Korean rebels’ HQ, a group of misfits whose base is nearby.

It’s all over the place. There are so many characters involved, I initially thought it impossible to get into the story. I need my characters built strong and solid; they are how I relate to the story. But despite myself, I did connect. I connected with all of them. I especially felt a certain kinship with the group of misfits. They had this way of thinking about the world, and society, that just hit a nerve.

Human beings had the freedom and potential to do anything whatsoever; that was what made them so scary.

At the same time, though the entire book was set in such a depressing time for the nation, there were many moments of pure humour. It’s like how we are sometimes able to see the ridiculousness around us, and just laugh in spite of ourselves. That’s the kind of feeling that this book exuded—just feel the feelings, admit them, face up to them, and you’ll be all right.

Why didn’t people just raise their hands and ask if they could use the toilet? Not to ask and to wet yourself, then blame the nasty guerrillas, seemed ludicrous.

One of the things that really stood out for me through this book, was how “individualistic” it was. Everyone in the book was his/her own person. They belonged to their groups—the Koryos, the misfits, the government—but they also didn’t belong. They were themselves. They had their own thoughts and memories and reasons. That felt important to me, and steadily became more important the deeper I went into the story.

It’s not an easy book to talk about, because there were so many things happening at the same time, so many elements working together to create the complex tapestry that is this story. But it’s definitely one brilliant piece of work.

Took me seven years to revisit this man’s work. But then again, it’s never too late. In fact, it may be that this is just perfect timing.

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